Explaining violent death of Jesus to children at Easter

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Parents try to shield their children from violence, but it exists in the news, in movies, television and even in the story of Jesus' death.

During Holy Week services marking Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, Christians take different approaches toward making Christ's suffering, crucifixion and resurrection make sense to children.

Explaining Jesus' birth is often easier for Sunday school teachers and parents because young children understand the birth of a child, said Brandelin Frazier, children's pastor at Grace United Methodist Church.

She said her church tries not to give children a graphic image of Jesus on the cross, but rather explains why the cross is an important symbol in the church.

"We don't want it to be a scary thing, but exciting for them," Frazier said. Part of the lesson about Jesus' death is that he returns three days later. "That's what is important about Easter."

Second-grade students at St. Mary Cathedral School talked about the events of Holy Week in the days before Easter, as did all classes.

The conversations are "emphasizing the spiritual and not stressing the physical," St. Mary principal Carol Strattman said.

So, the students don't always talk about the violence involved in Jesus' trial and crucifixion. But they did know that communion is observed on Maundy Thursday because it commemorates the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before his betrayal. They know that Good Friday is so named because it is the day on which all sins were forgiven because Jesus died.

"A lot of this really ties in now," said Mary Santana, second-grade teacher. The students have been studying for their first communion, so many of these lessons were familiar.

And her class watched "Jesus of Nazareth," which helped give the children a picture of how it might have looked and how people might have reacted, she said.

Lessons about Holy Week help children understand the importance of these days and their observances in the church. Strattman said teachers and parents have to consider a child's level of understanding. "A kindergarten teacher would teach differently than an eighth-grade teacher," she said.

But the lessons learned are the same.

Stephanie Capp, a student at St. Mary, said that when she takes her first communion on April 3, it will mean more because of what happened to Jesus on the cross.

The students also learned how Jesus suffered on the cross. "They had to put ropes around his arms so he would hang up and the nails wouldn't come out of his hands," said second-grader Nicholas Bradshaw.

A classmate, Kendall Young, also knew that Jesus was put on the cross because "he claimed he was the son of God" and the Romans didn't agree.

Many people who watched Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which depicted visually what Jesus' last hours on Earth were like, were surprised by the graphic nature of the film and cautioned parents who might let their children watch it.

Pastor Daniel Hackney at Hanover Lutheran Church said parents had asked him about whether or not to let their children see "The Passion," which is being shown after the church's 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. services on Good Friday.

He said that if a child had already seen a lot of violence in movies and on television, watching "The Passion" might counteract those negative images.

"But if they've been shielded then it would be best to wait until a later age," Hackney said.

Lynwood Baptist Church showed the film on Palm Sunday and advised parents to use their own discretion. Centenary United Methodist Church was doing the same, though the Rev. Clayton Smith said many families already own the DVD and have viewed the film and talked about it with their children. The church has other activities planned for the children who do attend the service with parents.


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